In North Carolina, drinking publicly is not technically illegal. However, laws and ordinances can make it difficult for you to drink in public without getting into trouble. For example, it’s illegal to walk around with an open container of alcohol. It’s also illegal to be disruptive or disorderly while drunk in public. And if you’re caught drinking and driving, you could face severe penalties.This blog post will look at current laws about drinking in public in North Carolina and what can happen if you drink and drive.
What is Drinking in Public?
Drinking in public is exactly what it sounds like – drinking alcohol on a public street, public transport, regional park, or other public places. This can include places like public parks, sidewalks, and even on public beaches.
In North Carolina, public intoxication is not illegal. However, there are laws and ordinances in place that can make it difficult for you to drink alcoholic beverages in public without getting into trouble.
For example, local laws almost always make it illegal to consume alcohol while walking around on public property with an open container of alcohol. Open container laws ban public drinking in most areas, such as a road, sidewalk, or public park.
It’s also illegal to be disruptive or disorderly while drunk in public. And if you drink and drive, you could face serious penalties.
Open Container Laws: What If You Get Caught Drinking in Public?
Open container law in NC restricts where you can drink alcohol in public. Most U.S. states and localities prohibit possessing an open bottle of or consuming alcohol in public places, such as on the street. Only 24 states do not have statutes regarding the public consumption of alcohol. (1)
If police officers catch you publicly drinking with an open container in a public space, they may issue you a citation or arrest you.
Drunk and Disorderly Laws in NC
Even though it’s not illegal to be drunk in public, it is illegal to be drunk and engage in disorderly conduct in public.
NC Law states you may face charges with a Class 3 misdemeanor if you behave in a disruptive manner, such as:
- Blocking or otherwise interfering with traffic on a highway or public parking area
- Blocking or lying across on a passage across a sidewalk or entrance to a building
- Preventing or interfering with access to a sidewalk or entrance to a building
- Grabbing, shoving, pushing, or fighting others
- Challenging others to fight
- Cursing or shouting at others
- Rudely insulting others
- Begging for money or other property
If police officers arrest you, they can charge you with a Class 3 misdemeanor. Or a law enforcement officer may choose to give you a citation instead and take you to a shelter or healthcare facility.
Can You Get a DWI for Drinking in Public?
No, you cannot get a DWI for drinking in public. However, if you drink and drive, or even possess an open bottle of alcohol in your vehicle, you could face severe penalties. (An open bottle in your trunk or in the very back of a van or SUV is okay.)
You may not carry an open container (seal broken) of any alcoholic beverage in your vehicle’s passenger area (even if the vehicle is parked), unless:
- You’re in the passenger area of a bus, taxi cab, or other transportation vehicle, and the driver has not consumed any alcohol. In this case, an open container of a malt beverage (beer, malt liquor, ale, hard lemonade) or unfortified wine (table wine, champagne) is okay in the passenger area.
- In the living quarters of a motor home or home car
- In a house trailer
Open containers of spirituous liquor (bourbon, gin, vodka, etc.), mixed drinks, or fortified wine (wine with higher alcohol content, i.e., 17% to 24%, such as sherry or port) in the passenger area of any motor vehicle is always unlawful. (2)
Alcoholic Beverage Social Districts in North Carolina?
If you go to a festival or concert or a beer festival, you can often buy alcohol and drink it while in the confines of the permitted public activity.
And recently, House Bill 890 allowed North Carolina municipalities to create social districts with hours where you may drink as if you are attending a wine or beer festival.
Raleigh recently opened a social district called “Sip n Stroll” where you can buy alcoholic beverages from licensed establishments. You may drink them in public (think sidewalks) within the confines of the mapped-out area. You may also consume them in other participating establishments, whether they serve alcohol or not.
Fuquay-Varina, Wake Forest, and Durham also voted to pass ordinances, while districts already exist in Greensboro, Kannapolis, and Monroe. However, it’s crucial to follow the posted rules for each district, so you’re not in violation.
Some rules to watch out for when public drinking in a social district include:
- Only drink during the hours the district is open
- Drinks must be from a designated seller in the social district
- Drink containers must clearly identify where you bought them and not hold more than 16 fluid ounces.
- Possession of more than two beer or wine alcoholic beverage drinks at one time is illegal
- Possession of more than one alcoholic beverage containing liquor at one time is illegal
- Anyone who leaves the social district with alcohol can face criminal charges
- Do not drink alcohol while driving or riding a bike.
If you face charges for violations in social districts, contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. Because these districts are a newer phenomenon in our state, law enforcement officers may need to learn about the legal implications of their actions. However, an experienced attorney will know how to protect your rights and find your best defense!
Penalties for Drinking Alcohol and Driving in NC
Driving after drinking in North Carolina is a risky business. For many individuals, a DWI is possible with two or even fewer drinks with dinner!
You may not realize that you can face DWI charges even if your BAC is less than .08% if you appear impaired! You may also spend a night or more in jail for DWI if officers see you swerving or if you’re in an accident with a BAC under .08.
If an officer stops you, you can face arrest for DWI if you’re the driver and:
- Your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is 0.08% or more (no matter your age)
- You are impaired by another substance (even a prescription medication lawfully prescribed)
- You possess any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance (G.S. 90-89) or its metabolites in your blood or urine.
- You had any alcohol and are under the age of 21
- You’re a commercial driver with .04 or above BAC
- You’re a bus or daycare driver with any alcohol in your system
Even if your BAC is under .08, you may still face charges for DWI if you have:
- Slurred speech
- Bloodshot eyes
- Fail sobriety tests
Your only hope of avoiding the consequences of a DWI is an experienced criminal defense attorney. There are many successful defenses for a DWI charge to help you avoid conviction and the penalties that come with that!
What If I Face Arrest for Drinking and Driving?
First off, don’t talk to an officer unless your attorney is present. Let the officer know you won’t take a breathalyzer unless your attorney or another witness is present. By law, you have 30 minutes for them to arrive and watch your testing.
Don’t talk with anyone at the jail either. Anyone can turn against you and talk about what you said. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law!
Penalties for a DWI in North Carolina are severe. The penalties vary depending on the factors listed above. However, generally, you can expect to face some of the following consequences if convicted of DWI in NC:
- Jail time
- Criminal record
- Community service
- Driver’s license suspension or revocation
- Installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) on your vehicle
- Seizure of your vehicle
- Other alcohol monitoring devices
- Higher car insurance premiums
You may also be required to attend alcohol education classes or treatment programs.
The bottom line is that public drinking is often illegal in North Carolina. Laws and ordinances can make it difficult for you to drink in public without getting into trouble. If you choose to drink in public, try a social district or drink on private property before going out on public property.
We Can Help If You’re Facing Charges
At Scharff Law, we understand the challenges you face when accused of drinking in public, open container charges, or drinking and driving. Our Raleigh DWI lawyers have helped many people facing DWI charges get their lives back on track. We investigate your case fully to protect you from rights violations, illegal search and seizure, and more! We can help you, too.
Contact us today for a free consultation and learn more about how we can help you fight for your rights and protect your freedom.